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By the time dusk fell he had barely covered five laps.
At night he lit a big fire, piling large quantities of pine
branches and dry brushwood around a huge, half-decayed
birch-tree trunk lying on the ground. While this tree trunk
smouldered with a dull glow, radiating pleasant warmth,
he slept stretched out on the ground, conscious of the
life-giving warmth, instinctively turning over in his
sleep, and waking in order to add brushwood to revive
the flames that were lazily lapping the sides of the log.

A blizzard sprang up in the middle of the night. The
pine-trees overhead swayed, rustled, creaked and groaned
in alarm. Clouds of prickly snow swept across the ground.
The rustling gloom swirled around the sizzling, sparkling
fire. But the snow-storm did not disturb Alexei; he was
immersed in deep, sound slumber, protected by the
warmth of the fire.

The fire protected him from the beasts of the forest.
As for the Germans, there was no need to worry about
them on a night like this. They would not dare to go deep
into the forest during a snow-storm. For all that, while
his weary body rested in the smoky warmth, his ear,
already trained to the caution of the denizens of the for-
est, caught every sound. Just before dawn, when the
blizzard had abated and a dense white mist hung over
the now silent earth, Alexei thought that above the rustle
of the swaying pine-trees and the soft swish of the falling
snow he heard the distant sounds of battle, explosions,
bursts from machine-guns, and rifle fire.

"Can the front line be so near? So soon?"

But when, in the morning, the wind dispersed the fog,
and the forest, which had grown silvery in the night,
glistened bright and frosty in the sun and, as if rejoicing
at this sudden transformation, the feathered fraternity
chirped and twittered and sang in anticipation of the
coming spring, Alexei, however much he strained his
ears, could catch no sound of battle, neither rifle fire nor
even the rumble of artillery.
The snow-flakes, sparkling like crystals in the sun,
dribbled from the trees in white, smoky streams. Here